2009 Fantasy Baseball Preview: Shortstops

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Before your 2009 fantasy baseball draft kicks off this year, do yourself a favor and repeat this three or four times to yourself: I will draft a shortstop in the first nine rounds.

Not unlike third basemen, the shortstop position is weak this season. After Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins come off the board in the first two rounds, you’re left with roughly eight shortstops that will give you adequate to good production this season. We project those eight shortstops to be selected anywhere between the fifth and ninth round in standard mixed leagues, which is why we suggest nabbing one before the conclusion of the ninth.

The good news is that in a 12-team league, you’ll definitely have the opportunity to land one of the big three (Ramirez, Reyes, Rollins) or scoop up one of the eight adequate-to-good shortstops that we’re referring to. The bad news is that shortstops can start flying off the board quickly and if you’re selecting in a snake draft, you could wind up on the wrong end of the spectrum when the run starts.

That’s why to be safe, you will draft a shortstop in one of the first nine rounds because you don’t want to be the guy that’s trying to figure out whether or not Edgar Renteria will bounce back now that he’s in the NL again, or having to choose between Orlando Cabrera’s consistent .280 batting average and Khalili Greene’s 25-plus home run potential. (Side note: If you do wind up being that guy come draft day, it might be wise to select two shortstops back to back and hope you catch lightning in a bottle with one of them.)

Obviously you still want to be smart on draft day; we’re not advising you to take Derek Jeter in the third because you’re spooked about failing to grab a shortstop before the ninth round. But taking one of the top 11 shortstops a round early might not be a bad idea considering what you’ll be left with later on.

After Ramirez, Reyes and Rollins come off the board, here are the eight shortstops we’d suggest taking before the ninth round ends:

Stephen DrewStephen Drew, Arizona Diamondbacks
In his third season with the D-Backs last year, Drew was only the third shortstop in major league history to finish with 40 doubles, 20 home runs and 10 triples in 2008. At 26 years old, his ceiling is sky high right now as he enters the prime of his career and there is no doubt that he’s one of the bright young stars in baseball. If he builds off the success he had last year, Drew could easily hit 25 home runs, knock in 75 RBI, score 100 runs and chip in five stolen bases. He probably won’t sniff the .300-mark in terms of batting average, but he should be right around .290.

Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
Tulowitzki exploded onto the scene in 2007, helping the Rockies make a World Series appearance and setting a record for most home runs (20) in a season by an NL rookie shortstop. But injuries destroyed what was supposed to be a promising second season in 2008 and he obviously fell short of expectations. Still, he hit .300 over the second half of the season last year and he should once again build on his promising young career. He has the potential to hit 20-plus home runs, knock in 80 RBI, score 90 runs and add 10 stolen bases along with his .290 average. Tulowitzki is a star in the making and definitely one of the better young shortstops in the game.

Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox
Potential could be the one word to describe the Sox’s young shortstop. Ramirez has 20-home run and 20-stolen base potential and he could easily average .290 and score 100 runs. The one thing to keep in mind about him, however, is that last year was his breakout campaign and he could regress in ’09. Still, with Orlando Cabrera moving on in free agency, Ramirez will get every opportunity to build on his rookie performance and should have plenty of fantasy potential hitting in front of Carlos Quentin in the two-hole.

Jhonny Peralta, Cleveland Indians
With most of the Tribe hitters taking a step back in ’08, Peralta came through with a fine season. If Travis Hafner is healthy again this year, Peralta will move back to the third or fifth spot in the order (he was hitting cleanup in Hafner’s absence last season) and should hit 25-plus home runs. He does strike out a lot and his average will probably teeter around .275, but he’ll also give you 80-plus RBI and score 100-plus runs. There’s talk of him moving to third base this year so keep an eye on that, but he’ll still qualify as a shortstop in all leagues.

Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
Tried and true – Jeter is more than capable of giving you quality production day in and day out. At 35 years old, his numbers are definitely on the decline but that doesn’t mean the veteran will crash and burn in 2009. He might not hit 20 home runs or steal 20 bases this year, but you can probably bank on 15 dingers and 15 swiped bags. Just don’t overvalue him, because there’s no doubt someone will based on name recognition alone.

Rafael FurcalRafael Furcal, Los Angeles Dodgers
Obviously he’s a major injury risk, but if he’s healthy there’s no reason to believe Furcal can’t pick up where he left off in April of last year when he hit .367. He also returns to familiar stomping grounds after re-signing with the Dodgers, and he should have every opportunity to top 15 home runs and swipe 35-plus bases. Some owners will look at his name and take a pass given his age and injury concerns, but Furcal could be worth the risk come draft day, especially depending on how far he falls.

J.J. Hardy, Milwaukee Brewers
If you can put up with Hardy’s streaky production, he’s liable to blast 25 home runs, drive in 75 RBI and bat around .280. Depending on how your first five or six rounds turn out, the addition of Hardy could give you a boost in the power department without killing your team’s overall batting average. Not a lot of owners will jump at the opportunity to select him, but Hardy is an underrated player and after hitting 20-plus home runs the last two seasons, he looks like a reliable option.

Michael Young, Texas Rangers
Some owners might choose to go with a young sleeper like KC’s Mike Aviles over an aging vet like Young, but keep in mind how good the Rangers’ offense was last year. Young has the potential to hit .300 with12 dingers, knocking in 82 RBI and scoring 102 runs at the top of Texas’s lineup. Aviles might hit .300 again with 10-plus home runs, but it’s doubtful he brings what Young does to the table in terms of RBI and run production.

Here is our official ranking of shortstops. Remember that all of these players qualify for your middle infield position, so don’t fall asleep and miss out on taking a potential sleeper or consistent veteran shortstop in later rounds.

1. Hanley Ramirez, FLA
2. Jose Reyes, NYM
3. Jimmy Rollins, PHI
4. Stephen Drew, ARI
5. Troy Tulowitzki, COL
6. Alexei Ramirez, CHW
7. Jhonny Peralta, CLE
8. Derek Jeter, NYY
9. Rafael Furcal, LAD
10. J.J. Hardy, MIL
11. Michael Young, TEX
12. Mike Aviles, KC
13. Miguel Tejada, HOU
14. Yunel Escobar, ATL
15. Orlando Cabrera, OAK
16. Elvis Andrus, TEX
17. Edgar Renteria, SF
18. Jason Bartlett, TB
19. Ryan Theriot, CHC
20. Khalil Greene, STL
21. Jed Lowrie, BOS

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